National Infrastructure Commission calls for climate resiliency planning and stress tests

The UK Government has been urged to set "clear resilience standards" that enables energy and water networks, transport, essential services and all infrastructure sectors to stress test and plan against hidden climate challenges on the horizon.

National Infrastructure Commission calls for climate resiliency planning and stress tests

The report warns that the UK’s “generally robust historic resilience” may be challenged by future pandemics or other hidden factors

That is the key message of the government-appointed National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), which has set out a new report framework to help infrastructure sectors plan for future climate sectors.

The NIC notes that future proofing existing and planned infrastructure could spur job growth as part of a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. However, it warns that “the past is not always the best guide to the future” and has called for more proactive approaches to resiliency.

In particular, the report calls for more support across sectors by setting transparent standards of appropriate service levels alongside stress tests that provide clear warnings for utility providers to invest in long-term resilience.

Sir John Armitt, Chair of the Commission, said: “The Commission pays tribute to all those who are helping to minimise the impact to infrastructure during this period, often at significant personal risk. While this report draws on evidence collected before the pandemic, this study can inform thinking about the recovery and help ensure that we can be resilient to future challenges.

“To safeguard the systems our communities rely on, everyone involved in running infrastructure needs to anticipate and prepare for potential future challenges. The framework proposed in our report offers the tools to face uncomfortable truths, value resilience properly, test for vulnerabilities and drive adaptation before it is too late.”

The report focuses on previous climate-induced crises in the UK, name last summer’s power outage caused by lightning strikes and flooding incidents that have been treated as local issues rather than a nationwide, system problem. It also draws from climate-related events in other countries and what lessons can be learnt.

The report warns that the UK’s “generally robust historic resilience” may be challenged by future pandemics or other hidden factors, but that better understanding the challenge of climate change will help key sectors prepare for disruption.

The NIC has urges the Government to set clear resilience standards for infrastructure operators, while stress tests would be overseen by regulators. Operators would also be required to develop and work towards long-term resilience strategies.

National Infrastructure Strategy

The Government was meant to publish the long-awaited 30-year National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS) alongside the Budget in March, but it was delayed to give chancellor Rishi Sunak more time with the strategy.

There has been no confirmation of when the strategy will be launched, but reports suggest that the delay will allow for changes to ensure that funding is reflective of the UK’s net-zero target for 2050.

The strategy outlines how £100bn will be spent over this parliament and investments could be used to level up regions and outline spending projections for transport and digital infrastructure.

Already, numerous major infrastructure projects are being appealed on the grounds that they clash with climate mitigation and the UK’s net-zero target.

The BBC has since reported that a £28.8bn new roads programme could be challenged in the courts after it learnt that proposals don’t take emissions reduction commitments into account. Campaigners have acted under a fresh pretence that they can now hold the Government to account for planning projects after the historic court rejection of the Heathrow expansion on climate grounds.

Broadcaster Chris Packham has also launched a legal challenge to the £100bn HS2 project. HS2 was proposed when the UK was still performing towards the aims of the 2008 Climate Change Act. But the Conservatives have since enshrined a net-zero emissions target into law, and there are serious concerns as to whether the HS2 project can comply with this vision.

In fact, the New Civil Engineer (NCE) is reporting that numerous UK infrastructure projects may face court cases on climate grounds, following the Heathrow expansion decision. An NCE investigation revealed that 64 applications were at the pre-examination or pre-approval stage, almost 20 of which are road projects, while 27 are energy projects; all of which could be subject to legal challenges.

Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency and UK Commissioner to the Global Commission on Adaptation, said: “The climate emergency means shocks to the economy from record weather events are following each other with increasing speed.

“Creating more resilient infrastructure, and building back better after a climate-induced shock, doesn’t just reduce risks, it’s an economic opportunity too. This report will help people better understand that opportunity.”

Matt Mace

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